Rohingya in a street market in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / Diego Cupolo / NurPhoto

The following is a response from the Bangladeshi Embassy in Washington to a recent opinion piece published in Asia Times.

In her October 19 commentary Rohingya’s suffering continues in Bangladesh, Sabria Chowdhury Balland mischaracterizes Bangladesh’s treatment of Rohingya refugees. Rather than question the impunity with which Myanmar has conducted its genocide against the Rohingya people and its refusal to repatriate them, Balland cherry-picks facts about Bangladesh in an attempt to undermine its generous humanitarian effort.

Bangladesh has worked hard to protect the Rohingya that Myanmar authorities violently ejected. To guarantee the safety of the refugees, Bangladesh has deployed thousands of police to patrol the Rohingya camps, constructed a safe space for Rohingya women, evacuated and relocated refugees to storm shelters during natural disasters, and trained  volunteers, including Rohingya refugees, in disaster response.

Balland is mistaken about Bangladesh’s role in educating the Rohingya. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one of Bangladesh’s partners in providing aid to the Rohingya, said in a statement to CNN that Bangladesh has “established 2,500 learning centers in the camps that reach close to 90% of primary school-aged children, and plans to build 500 more in 2020.”

The learning centers and schools constructed by Bangladesh allow Rohingya children to study, following the Myanmar curriculum, to age 14. Skills training is provided to Rohingya children over 14.

Balland suggests that by blocking access to mobile services, Bangladesh is restricting the Rohingya’s freedom of expression. That is not true. Bangladesh restored full mobile services to the Rohingya camps [in August], a fact Balland does not mention.  

Unfortunately, already-crowded Bangladesh cannot absorb the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees residing in the country. From the standpoint of security, infrastructure and economics – and compliance with Bangladesh’s constitution – permanent residency is not a viable option for them.

Recent statements from members of the US government support Bangladesh’s position. Representatives Elliot Engel and Michael T McCaul, chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, along with Senators Jim Risch and Bob Menendez, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanked the government of Bangladesh and called for Myanmar’s military to be held accountable.

Senators Marco Rubio, Edward J Markey, Todd Young, Dick Durbin, Susan Collins, Elizabeth Warren, Ben Cardin, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley sent a letter urging President Donald Trump’s administration to take additional action to support the Rohingya community, to hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities, and “to refer to these crimes by their proper term: genocide.”

Bangladesh readily acknowledges that the refugee camps are not an ideal home. That is why Bangladesh is working diligently with its international partners to secure the return of the Rohingya and hold accountable those in Myanmar who have perpetrated genocide. In the meantime, Bangladesh is doing everything it can to help them.

Shamim Ahmad

Shamim Ahmad is press minister, Embassy of Bangladesh, Washington, DC.